In 1775, the famous aphorist, Samuel Johnson, quipped that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” His biographer, reporting this remark, quickly added that “he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest.” Johnson’s observation, however, seems to have a different meaning than the one his biographer offered by way of preemptive defence. It is not that feigned patriotism is a hypocritical veil which conceals, under the pretense of an ideal, a naked self-interest, but rather that a scoundrel can always appeal to a certain form of patriotism as a last resort—namely, the limited, parochialism of the mob.
This meaning of Johnson’s quip was illustrated when, at the recent Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, President Barack Obama – the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and erstwhile representative of a “new kind of politics” – did not appeal to America’s best ideals and proudest traditions, but played, instead, to the pit. Indeed, he gave new meaning to the phrase “pandering to the base,” for it is to the base and the basest that the President stooped.
Obama’s four years in office have left him with no legacy to tout; indeed, for a politician who campaigned with “the audacity of hope” – to borrow the title of the then-45-year-old’s second autobiography -– his first (and, one hopes, only) term will be remembered, much less for its hope than for its audacity. But, despite unprecedented unemployment, insolvency at home and a committed campaign of moral appeasement abroad, his extensive failures as a statesmen have convinced him, not of the errors of his ambitious ideological experiment, but of the inadequate implementation of the experiment itself.
And so, in Charlotte, Obama addressed himself, not to the undecided independent voter, but instead to his true constituency: apathetic liberal extremists, themselves disillusioned by their feckless standard-bearer who, having promised so much, has delivered so little. Obama and the Democratic brass, thus, decided to make their convention a carnivalesque rally to energize their party’s farthest left-wing fringe. After removing the last remaining reference to the Deity from their platform, Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL-Pro-Choice America (formerly the National Abortion Rights Action League), and Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, both addressed the convention in prime time. The country was presented with the spectacle of its ruling party enshrining the grotesque and barbaric practice of prenatal infanticide as their central and defining value. Not in God, but in abortion, do they trust.
Yet even this macabre exaltation of death was not the most chilling takeaway from the Democrats’ convention: rather, it is their enduring popularity. One of the two national parties in American politics – indeed, the one currently in power – has not only embraced abortion as an unequivocal good, but has successfully styled the rather tepidly pro-life position of the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, as a “war on women”. And, despite his flagrant failures, Obama retains a job-approval rating which hovers around 50 per cent and holds a narrow lead among likely voters.
No politician in living memory has been less naturally talented and yet so inexplicably successful, so ideologically left-of-center and yet so popular with the American people. Obama is, indeed, to liberals what Ronald Reagan was to conservatives, and we can only hope that his enduring popularity is the successful result of his attempt to appear less radical than he really is – in addition, of course, to his pandering reelection platform. But even if Obama is really the Great Caterer in answer to the Great Communicator, we have reason to fear the transformative effect of his presidency.
A former state senator who repeatedly opposed laws protecting the “born alive” infants who had miraculously survived botched abortions, Obama has brought murder into the mainstream of American politics. Even Bill Clinton, the hither-to most pro-abortion president in American history, at least acknowledged the recoil of repugnance which the killing of the unborn elicited in the average citizen when, affirming the legality of the vicious practice, he said it should, however, be “safe, legal, and rare.” Obama, for his part, has removed this last vestige of exculpating embarrassment with his full-throated and sweeping support for the elimination of unborn life.
When Reagan campaigned for the presidency, and declared that it was “Morning in America,” even amid the thunderous rumblings of economic uncertainty and the looming clouds of Communism. And yet, that towering figure ushered in the dawn that he also declared. But now the last lights of American prosperity and influence are setting: if Moscow was Carthage to America’s new Empire, motivated barbarians now promise to pick off the moribund superpower during this, its decadent collapse. And, while there have been several sad milestones in America’s slow decent, when historians sift through the rumble of their once-great nation, the importance of the 2012 DNC convention in Charlotte will not go unnoticed. As darkness again encircled the country, its leaders “doubled down” on death.